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Description

Debunking Witchcraft Hysteria

Reginald Scot [Scott]. The Discovery of Witchcraft: Proving, That the Compacts and Contracts of Witches with Devils and all Infernal Spirits or Familiars, are but Erroneous Novelties and Imaginary Conceptions. Also discovering, How far their Power extendeth in Killing, Tormenting, Consuming, or Curing the bodies of Men, Women, Children, or Animals, by Charms Philtres, Periapts, Pentacles, Curses, and Conjurations. Wherein Likewise The Unchristian Practices and inhumane Dealings of Searchers, and Witch-Tryers upon Aged, Melancholly, and Superstitious people in extorting Confessions by Terrors and Tortures and in devising false Marks and Symptoms, are notably Detected... London: for A[ndrew] Clark, and are to be sold by Dixy Page at the Turks-Head in Cornhill near the Royall Exchange, 1665. Third edition (with An excellent Discourse of the Nature and Substance of Devils and Spirits now added). Folio. 10.75 x 7 inches. [xviii], 95, [lx], 97-138, [136], 140-219, [221] - 254, [256-257], 292, [xiv], 72, [2] pages. Lacks half-title, as is usual with this title. Bound to style in modern full mottled calf, covers paneled in blind, spine ruled and tooled in gilt in compartments, five raised bands, brown gilt morocco lettering label. Contemporary ownership signature on the title-page, title-page re-margined, pages 241/242 in later pen facsimile, pages 243, 247 with about a portion of the page in pen facsimile, final two leaves in later pen facsimile. Occasional minor soiling, a few ink marginal text notes. Overall, very good. This is Reginald Scott's most important work, which was published without licence in 1584 and reprinted in 1651, 1654, and 1665... Scott's objective was to refute the Démonomanie (1580) of Jean Bodin and to go well beyond the arguments of the most radical author on witchcraft known to him, Johann Weyer, whose De praestigiis daemonum (1566) had been attacked by Bodin.

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Scott made a number of remarkable claims. He maintained that there were no witches in contemporary England and that all those executed for witchcraft were innocent - he had tried to find anyone who would offer instruction in witchcraft without success. He asserted that none of the terms used in the Bible which had been translated as 'witch' had that meaning in the original languages, thereby undermining the claim that there was a biblical sanction for the execution of witches, and he is thus a significant figure in the history of biblical criticism. According to Scott, witchcraft was an impossible crime, because words could not work upon the world. His arguments thus implied a radical separation between mind and matter. He contended that where curses or spells were followed by unpleasant events the link between the two was entirely coincidental. Scott went beyond a systematic attack on the intellectual foundations of the belief in witchcraft because he described witch accusations in England as resulting out of a particular type of social encounter: old women begging for food or other assistance would curse their neighbors when they were turned away empty handed; if something bad then happened - the death of a child, perhaps - the old woman would be taken to be a witch. Witchcraft accusations in England thus arose in the context of disagreements over expectations and obligations relating to charitable giving. This sociological account was persuasive to contemporaries and has been adopted by modern historians. As far as Scott was concerned, those who confessed to being witches were either deluded or the victims of torture, while much of what Bodin had taken to be evidence for the existence of witchcraft in different eras and diverse cultures Scott was prepared to dismiss as mere fable and fiction.

Wing S945. ESTC r39108. Toole-Stott, Conjuring, 620. Cornell, Witchcraft, 497-498.





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Auction Dates
October, 2012
4th-5th
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